Friday, January 14, 2011

Author Interview: Leah Cypess (Mistwood)

I wrote my first story in first grade. The narrator was an ice-cream cone in the process of being eaten. In fourth grade, I wrote my first book, about a girl who gets shipwrecked on a desert island with her faithful and heroic dog (a rip-off of both The Black Stallion and all the Lassie movies, very impressive).

After selling my first story (Temple of Stone) while in high school, I gave in to my mother’s importuning to be practical and majored in biology at Brooklyn College. I then went to Columbia Law School and practiced law for almost two years at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, a large law firm in New York City. I kept writing and submitting in my spare time, and finally, a mere 15 years after my first short story acceptance, I sold my first novel to Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins).

I live in Brookline, Massachusetts (right outside of Boston) with my husband Aaron, a researcher and doctor at the Joslin Diabetes Center, and our two daughters.

From author's website.

The premise behind Mistwood is so fresh and unique. What inspired you to write this story?

I had an image in my head one evening of a group of men riding into a misty forest, searching for the magical creature who lived there, and I just started writing. I didn't have any idea of where the story was going when I began - I made it up as I went along.

How did you go about building the original world in which the novel takes place?

I wrote the story first, and then built the world around it. Because I've done a lot of reading (for a different project) about late Renaissance/early-modern Europe, I used that as my baseline, but obviously changed some things and made a lot of other things up!

Isabel is such a refreshingly strong heroine. What characteristics do you think are vital to a compelling and strong YA heroine? Who are some of your favorites?

I think YA heroines should be as varied as people are in real life - I could accept any heroine as long as she has some likable traits. The YA genre has a lot of great heroines these days, but one of my favorites is the queen of Attolia from Megan Whalen Turners The Queen's Thief series.

This novel seems to turn gender stereotypes on their heads. Rokan is the emotional, passionate, occasionally reckless one. Isabel is the strong, emotionless, cunning protector. Was this intentional? What do you think this aspect adds to the novel?

It wasn't intentional. Whenever I find myself involved in discussions about such matters, I feel woefully underprepared - other people say things like, "Well, my study of fantasy literature from the 18th century on revealed a damaging stereotype that I set out to undermine," whereas I'm sitting there saying, "Um, I kind of made it up as I went along. This is how the characters occurred to me."

Isabel frequently compares herself to “humans” and questions her own differences. What do you think it means to be human?

That's obviously a very, very complex subject! But I do think that a large part of being human lies in the ability to make choices - and that, ultimately, is where Isabel discovers her own humanity as well.

Rokan says that you can’t be a good man and a good king. Do you think this is true? If given the opportunity, would you like to be queen of Samorna?

I'm very glad not to be king or queen of anywhere - and I'm one American who never wanted to be president! I think that for someone who is in a position of power, it is impossible to go through life without harming innocent people. It's like being a commander in times of war - how many times do you have to order actions that are going to end up killing innocent civilians, or put your own soldiers at risk, or any other number of terrible things? Ultimately, if you freeze at the thought of harming anyone, you can't make the decisions you need to make. At the same time, I don't know how you can accept the necessity of hurting innocent people without becoming desensitized to it.

If you could, would you like to be the Shifter, with all her powers and abilities? Why or why not?

I have to admit, I would love to be able to change into different types of animals. I'd take that in a second!

Aside from Isabel, who was your favorite character to write? Why?

Clarisse was definitely the most fun to write! There was pretty much no limit to what she would do or say, and that's always fun to play with.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing this novel?

This was my first novel, so it introduced me to the revision process - and also to the concept of writing on deadline. I'd had my own self-imposed deadlines in the past, but of course I always knew I could miss them if I really had to. In this case, though, I had a strict deadline of three weeks to fix some major plot points. The experience was so intense that I even had dreams in which I was revising. (In fact, I figured out one of my plot fixes in a dream.)

What is a random fact readers probably don’t know about you?

I really hate olives. (Hey, you said "random.")

What can you tell us about upcoming novels in the Mistwood series? Do you have any other projects in the works?

There's a companion novel called "Nightspell" which takes place in a different part of the world, with a different main character, but does include one cross-over character - Clarisse. Other novels in the Mistwood world will probably be of that type; stand-alone novels with tie-ins to the previous books.

For more about this author, please visit:

Thanks so much to Leah Cypess for agreeing to an interview!


hmz1505 said...

Great interview. I loved Mistwood and can't wait for Night spell

Lauren M said...

Thanks for the interview! I loved Mistwood so much! (And it's great to hear that Clarisse will be in Nightspell! I'm a huge fan of her character!)

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